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Ethnic: Native American

The Pipe:

The place to start in liturgical adaptation is to use the Sacred Pipe as a prayer instrument. This will probably in time lead to the Pipe as an official sacramental like holy water. The Pipe is a wonderful symbol of Christ because it is the instrument of the mediator in the Sioux Religion just as the Sacred Humanity is the instrument of Christ the Mediator in our Christian Religion. Christ fulfills the Pipe rather than destroys it since He does in a more perfect way what the person praying with the Pipe does in an imperfect way. The Pipe, then, is the great Sioux foreshadowing of Christ in HIs Priestly Office. A person who understands and appreciates the Sacred Pipe will be disposed and not hindered from accepting Christ. I have found this true from experience. The Pipe must be purified, even exorcised if necessary like Holy Water and "baptized." When this is done, it is no longer the same Pipe which the early missionaries condemned. Once a person, whether Indian or non-Indian had this vision, he can no longer pray with the Pipe in exactly the same way as before. This is most important to remember: we are no longer talking about the same exact Pipe as the early missionaries because they did not see it in this way.

The Sacred Pipe is the religious symbol which is at the center of every traditional religious ceremony which all Indians of the Plains performed. It would be well to read one book, The Sacred Pipe, by Joseph E. Brown, Oklahoma Press (republished this year). In this account of Nicholas Black Elk, one of the great Catholic catechists on the Pine Ridge Reservation, we see all that the Pipe might stand for. If we want to grasp and summarize all the true cultural religious values of the Sioux Religion, then we must make our approach to adaptation beginning with the Sacred Pipe. If someone would build a Gothic Church, sing (a) Gregorian chant and wear Roman vestaments and at the same time reject the Sacred Humanity of Christ, this would be faulty acceptance of the Catholic Religion. The same is literally true of adapting the externals of the Sioux Religion such as language, music, beadwork, etc. without the Pipe. Whatever is said of the Sioux Religion is true of all the Plains Indians.

By adapting the Pipe we are getting at the natural starting point in their own minds. When you have taken the Pipe into the Catholic Church, you have taken in the essential good of their religion. Does this mean that we need to take in all their religious values without careful examination? No, some of these must be purified or even rejected. The advantage of starting with the Pipe as a prayer instrument (which it always was in their tradition) is that it creates a frequent occasion for dialog with the Indian people and for becoming involved in conversations which were closed to one before. It is most important to talk to the Indian people in an atmosphere of sympathetic acceptance to learn what the Pipe really means to them.

There will be good Catholic Indians who will not want to accept the Pipe because it has been condemned by some Fathers. It is important here to give time for new ideas to seep in. It took three or four months for one of my good Catholic full bloods to accept the use of the Pipe by the priest because of past condemnation. But when the idea finally got across that we are "baptizing" the Pipe, he said with great joy that he "wanted to be the godfather." It wasn't that he did not love the Pipe, but rather he rejected whatever the Fathers told him was bad regardless of how dear it was to him. A person could have taken his first reaction to the Pipe during those first several months as an argument against using the Pipe. But as it turned out, just the opposite is true. In fact, the injustice on our part for denying him the use of his own religious culture which he valued becomes evident. That is why the only way we can continue to discuss liturgical adaptation of Indians culture and make decisions concerning it, is to actually use the Pipe, begin a dialog and give sufficient time for honest reactions to become known.

One great advantage to using the Pipe for many communities is that it does not necessarily involve the Lakota language or Indian language of any Plains Tribe. If a community is almost entirely Indian speaking, using the language is good. But if the community is split, then the Indian language drives the full blood and the mixed bloods into the disunity of the ghettos. I don't think it is advisable to have a Mass just for Indian speaking people and one for non-Indian speaking people. This will never create the Christian Community. On the other hand, the Pipe is a symbol and a symbol can mean different people. [sic]  To many full bloods it still has a very literal appeal because they are still living in some way in the traditional world. These people have often been leading double lives. There are probably more Indians going through the sweat lodge and making a fast or vision quest on top of the hill than most people realize.

However, to the non-Indian speaking mixed blood the Pipe should be a symbol of his Indian identity and help enable him to accept his Indian identity with pride. Fr. Bryde's thesis is that there is a social pathology involved in today's Indian Culture and the place to start for everyone, full and mixed blood alike, is to build a pride in their Indian identity. This is what the use of the Pipe in the liturgy can do as well as to unite a fragmented community. In comparison to the above approach, the singing of a white man's son[g]s translated to the Indian was a useful but very weak approach to adaptation. It served its purpose in its own time.

In conclusion, the starting point is to use the Pipe as a prayer instrument and be prepared for open dialog with the Indian People. This use is in complete conformity with our Catholic Faith and should requite [sic] the permission of a local superior only. Eventually, it may become an official sacramental requiring the permission of the Bishop. Thus we are putting the Pipe in a very precise place that we can easily defend and explain so that we can have confidence that we know what we are doing. This is a small beginning since we can hardly do less. If we never go any further than this, we still have enriched the Catholic Church with a wonderful cultural gift and we have allowed the Indian people to accept their Indian identity at least to some extent when they become Catholic. However, when this step is taken, other developments will appear. I use the Pipe as a prayer instrument because I pray with more meaning and greater sincerity. The prayers and rituals will follow.

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Motifs added by TRD

Where learned: CANADA ; Tekakwitha Conference ; WINNIPEG ; MANITOBA

Keyword(s): AMERICAN INDIAN ; BELIEF ; CATHOLICISM ; Colonialism ; Essay ; ETHNIC ; Native American ; RELIGION ; RELIGIOUS ; SYMBOL

Subject headings: BELIEF -- Prayer

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